17th-19th century: Growth, decline and revival
Utrecht flourished in the seventeenth century, despite competition by the older universities of Leiden (1575), Franeker (1585) and Groningen (1614), and by the ‘illustrious schools’ of Harderwijk (1599, university since 1648) and Amsterdam (1632). Leiden was a particularly formidable competitor to Utrecht. That is why investments were necessary: botanical gardens were laid out at the Sonnenborgh bastion and three years later an observatory was established in the bastion's Smeetoren (Smee Tower).
Utrecht University attracted many international students, mainly from Germany, England and Scotland. They witnessed the intellectual and theological struggle between the adherents of the new philosophy (Descartes lived in Utrecht for some time) and the followers of the orthodox theologian Voetius.
In the eighteenth century, Utrecht University experienced a period of decline. During the French occupation (1806-1813) Utrecht University was even degraded to an 'école secondaire' (secondary school).
After the founding of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Utrecht University regained its old rights in 1815, even though it was no longer a city university. Just like Leiden and Groningen, Utrecht became a state university. Utrecht played a prominent role in the revival of Dutch natural science. Around 1850, a so-called 'Utrecht School' of natural science was formed, featuring top professors such as Harting, Mulder, Buys Ballot and Donders. They introduced the teaching laboratory in the Netherlands, where students could practice their skills.